A Utah man says the college where he worked discriminated against him because he was in a same-sex marriage, denying the couple benefits and forcing him out of a job.
Dustin Kennedy said in a new federal lawsuit that an administrator at the Salt Lake City-based Eagle Gate College acknowledged that the couple could have gotten benefits if one of them was a woman.
“He just wants to be treated like everyone else,” attorney April Hollingsworth said.
But the for-profit school said it couldn’t give the men spousal benefits because its insurance company refused. Eagle Gate lawyer Christopher Snow said that administrators wanted to extend benefits to the couple, but their provider turned them down because gay marriage wasn’t legal when Kennedy worked there between 2007 and 2011.
“We were in full compliance with the law at the time of Mr. Kennedy’s request,” said Snow in a statement.
Hollingsworth says that no one cited the insurance company when Kennedy and his husband, also an Eagle Gate employee, were denied benefits.
Afterward, they were told they violated a romantic relationship rule even though it was routinely ignored for heterosexual couples. When they complained, Kennedy saw his work hours reduced to nothing, the lawsuit claims.
After his job as a massage therapy instructor ended, he says that Eagle Gate refused to pay unemployment benefits, claiming that he had left voluntarily. Kennedy took the issue to court and a judge sided with him, the suit states.
Kennedy also filed a claim of gender bias against Eagle Gate with the state and the federal governments. The U.S. Equal Opportunity Commission investigated and dismissed his claim in August, clearing the school of a federal violation, according to a letter filed with court documents, but giving him a green light to file the Wednesday’s lawsuit.
Utah’s new law barring discrimination based on sexual orientation went into effect in May, after Kennedy stopped working at Eagle Gate. It was hailed as a landmark measure with the backing of the Salt Lake City-based Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. The Mormon church’s relationship with the LGBT community cooled in recent weeks, however, after the church instituted new rules banning children of same-sex couples from baptism until the kids turn 18 and disavow same-sex relationships.
It’s part of a complex landscape for same-sex couples in Utah, where the capital city officially elected its first openly gay mayor about a week after a small-town judge ordered a baby taken away from lesbian foster parents in a ruling that was later reversed.
The Utah Anti-Discrimination and Labor Division has gotten three complaints under the new rule since May, division director Kerry Chlarson said.
Kennedy is seeking back pay and unspecified damages.
Eagle Gate, which is based in Salt Lake City and has campuses in Murray and Layton, switched insurance providers last year to a company that does extend benefits to same-sex couples, after gay marriage was legalized in Utah but before the U.S. Supreme Court made it the law of the land.
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